AUSTIN, April 3 -- Three bills filed by Senator José Rodríguez to address aspects of the cheating scandal at the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) passed the Senate today.
"As we have seen in the last week, it's going to take action by all segments of the community to repair the district. These issues will continue to unfold and will require diligence and action not just now but in the coming years. Parents and students are showing leadership in standing up for their schools, and there is heightened interest in the school board positions,” Rodríguez said. “All of this can turn into a positive for the community as we move forward.
"However, as I mentioned, it will require diligence. The job is not yet close to done,” he said. “I am concerned about the allegations made against TEA employees as well as the credibility and validity of the forensic audit."
EPISD has struggled to deal with revelations that its former superintendent and several administrators manipulated both students and data to give the appearance that standardized test scores were improving. This allowed the former superintendent, Lorenzo Garcia, to receive salary bonuses, as well as increase EPISD's performance ratings. Garcia has since pled guilty to charges of fraud as well as unrelated federal charges stemming from contracts he gave to a former mistress.
The bills passed by the Senate today are:
· SB 122 adds school districts’ boards of trustees to the list of county officials who can be removed from office for incompetence or misconduct.
· SB 123 strengthens TEA’s oversight of school districts by providing the commissioner of education with the authority to issue subpoenas and the ability to more easily investigate suspicious data reporting by districts.
· SB 124 makes the fraudulent manipulation of data reported to the TEA a third degree felony.
Two other bills will likely be voted on by the full Senate next week. They are:
· SB 119, which would create a program that would require EPISD to offer remedial classes and alternative graduation for students cheated of their education by the actions of district administrators.
· SB121, which strengthens whistleblower protections to encourage school district employees to report illegal activity without fear of retaliation.